The Philadelphia Connection
The birth of the Beale Wagon Road in 1859, the first federally-funded wagon road to the Pacific, was eminently connected to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Edward F. Beale’s home was located in nearby Chester, PA. His six iron bridges for the wagon road, located in Indian Territory, were fabricated by the Pencoyd Iron Works and Bridge Company located in suburban Philadelphia. The bridges’ design-build contractor was the A.& P. Roberts & Co., 410 Walnut St., Philadelphia, who were major owners of the Pencoyd Iron Works. John W. Murphy, a protégé of Squire Whipple, served as an iron bridge engineer for A.& P. Roberts & Co. Murphy soon formed the Murphy-Whipple Iron Bridge Company, in January 1861, at 333 Walnut St., one block down the street from A.& P. Roberts & Co. Construction in Indian Territory of the six Whipple bowstring iron bridges was headed J. R. Nevins, assisted by Messrs. Van Anden and Everett, also of Philadelphia.
Thus, the construction of the Beale Wagon Road in 1859 in Indian Territory was an important news story for the major newspapers of Philadelphia. The new Philadelphia newspaper, The Press, sent a young correspondent out to Indian Territory to cover the Beale story and write any other “letters” about the local Indian Nations that he felt Eastern readers might want to read. This young man wrote under the pseudonym of “The Wanderer.”
During the late summer and early fall of 1859, the Wanderer traveled from Philadelphia thru Fort Smith to Indian Territory. He traveled with a companion all the way across Indian Territory to the Seminole Nation and back. He spent considerable time visiting Fort Smith, North Fork Town and Little River settlement during his three-month long trip. More importantly, he wrote at least seven letters to and were published by The Press of Philadelphia during the second half of 1859.
Much like the prior famous western story written by W. L. Ormsby of the New York Herald about his travels on the first Butterfield Stage from Fort Smith to California a year earlier in September 1858, the Wanderer’s letters tell vivid details about the people, towns and iron bridges he saw being built for the Beale Wagon Road one year later in 1859. Had the events leading to the Civil War not come along one year later, Wanderer’s letters may have become just as famous as Ormsby’s because the Beale Wagon Road probably would have become The National Road to the Pacific.
The Wanderer was well informed about the origin, development and political difficulties regarding the initial federal funding of the Beale Wagon Road. He wrote “Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, played a critical role in getting federal funding for the Beale Wagon Road project in June 1858. He should be so honored.” The Wanderer was a gifted observer and writer. He intended to first observe all things, then write a fully informed and balanced story of what he had seen on his trip to Indian Territory. However, by the time he reached North Fork Town (now near Eufaula, OK) he began to write “letters” on what he had seen and mailed them back to The Press, which were soon published. I have read seven of them. Only two really provide much about the Beale Iron Bridges; one contains sections with great detail about the Little River bridge, the other contains a section on the overall status report of the six iron bridges as he knew them at the time—October 15, 1859, as his trip neared its end at Fort Smith.
Gene McCluney's Bridgehunter Essay and other documents, which I have referenced, contains most, but not all the bridge data contained in the seven letters written by Wanderer. The details given in the first letter noted above make it clear to me that the bridge at Little River was a Whipple bowstring arch truss bridge.